Are More People Depressed During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

How Coronavirus is Impacting Mental Health

As a counselor, I've been concerned about how Coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting mental health for the young adults I meet and work with. I read a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and was troubled by what I learned. 

Serious mental health issues affected study participants ages 18-24 more frequently than people in other age groups. If your mental health seems to have gotten worse during the Coronavirus, it's not "all in your head", and you're not "just being emotional". This pandemic has been the source of near-constant trauma and loss for the millions of people affected by it, and it often appears as though it will continue getting worse before it gets better.

But that doesn't mean there's no hope. In fact, it means you're far from alone. Your feelings and struggles are valid, and they are rooted in genuine pain. If yours is one of the mental illnesses that has worsened during the pandemic, I hope to share insights that will help you, as well as give you many ideas for where you can turn for guidance and support specific to what you need during this trying time. 

More Severe Depression

One of the most common mental health issues becoming more common during the spread of the Coronavirus is depression. Many people are feeling:

  • Unusually Sad or Weepy
  • Periods of Sadness Lasting 2 Weeks or Longer
  • Loss of interest in Connection with Others
  • Loss of Motivation for Tasks You Need to Do Or Activities You Otherwise Enjoy
  • Physical Exhaustion
  • Changes in Weight and/or Appetite

Depression during the pandemic may be caused by a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one to COVID-19, losing your job, or having the virus yourself. It could also come from being deprived of fun activities, and of the opportunity to be with friends and family in person. Or you may be doing everything you can to be positive, but still be experiencing symptoms. Whatever you are going through, don't judge yourself or your feelings. Many people are going through the same thing you are experiencing, or having very similar episodes of depression, and are able to get help and support, even while social distancing and isolating. 

Worsening Anxiety

If your anxiety has been getting worse as we have seen Coronavirus spreading, you may be experiencing symptoms that are new to you, or those symptoms may be more intense. You may feel things like:

  • Inability to Sleep or Eat as Much or as Often as You Used To
  • Near-Constant Worry About Your Family, Your Friends, Yourself, or the State of the World
  • Sweaty Palms, Increased Heart Rate, and a Sense of Doom or Dread

If you are experiencing any of these anxiety symptoms for the first time, it's understandable to be upset. But it's important to remember that anxiety can be managed with support like mentoring or counseling, by unplugging from devices, and by focusing on self-care.

More PTSD Episodes

Another thing I learned from the CDC study is that young adults with PTSD are having a greater number of post-traumatic stress flashbacks and related mental health episodes. Some people are experiencing PTSD for the first time because of traumatic experiences they had or witnessed during the pandemic.

I got a message about this recently:
"Even though I have been very careful throughout the pandemic, I've had to witness and live through so much pain and loss. My aunt died of COVID-19 earlier this year, and I keep remembering the last time I saw her. It's like I was there, but not able to reach her, not able to stop her from getting sick, and having to relive that. I was also unable to go to the hospital, since there was too much risk of me or my mom getting COVID ourselves.  But I can't help but picture her there suffering, and it's like those sensations are really happening in the moment. I know this isn't normal, but I don't know what to do.

What this person is describing are PTSD flashbacks. Flashbacks make it feel difficult or impossible to tell a difference between past trauma and current experiences. If you experienced loss, sickness, or other traumatic events during COVID-19, flashbacks might be triggered by news of COVID-19 spreading, or by a sight, sound, or smell connected with the traumatic event you went through. PTSD is manageable, and treatment ranges from specialized therapy and medication to coping techniques and peer support. There are a lot of pathways forward to healing from PTSD and many people with PTSD are able to live full, happy, normal lives with treatment and guidance along the way. 

More Frequent Suicidal Thoughts

In the study I read about, 25% of the people who reported having suicidal thoughts because of how they and their communities were being impacted by the pandemic were ages 18-24.

If you are having suicidal thoughts right now, immediate help is available. If you believe yourself or others to be in danger of harm, call 911. If you just need someone to talk to, someone is available to listen and help whenever you need them.

  • U.S. residents can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “START” to 741741.
  • If you live outside of the United States, contact the International Crisis Center in your home country.

No matter where you live, help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Our HopeCoaches are also trained to offer mentoring to people who struggle with thoughts or plans of suicide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

You are showing courage by reading about your struggles, and you have the courage to reach out for help. All emails and chats are private, and you can talk to anyone who has been trained to help without fear of judgment. 

We know life is hard, and we know the pandemic is making it harder. but we also know it will not last forever. There is hope for you to get through this period of despair, and there are people who care about you and are ready to remind you that there is no one else like you, and your life is worth living to the fullest extent you can.

One Root of the Problem

For many people who live with mental illness, there is a common thread that has worsened mental illness symptoms across the board... loneliness. While there are multiple factors at play in everyone's mental health treatment and recovery, a greater sense of isolation due to not being able to travel to family members, or not being able to be with friends and loved one face to face, has made many people feel more alone, and less able to be understood.

But one thing I know for certain after counseling young adults and teenagers for decades is this: there is always hope. When I have felt hopeless, my faith has often been a comfort to me. I know God doesn't judge my feelings, and He loves me through the darkest seasons of my life. No matter what you are going through, I hope it comforts you to know that you can bring any feelings you have, or any struggles you're facing, to God without fear. He loves you unconditionally, and He has the strength to comfort you through it. 

Finding Hope and Connection

While mental health is more about daily self-care, coping, and management than finding a cure, building connection with others can go a long way toward lessening the symptoms of many mental illnesses, including decreasing suicidal thoughts

Here are some of the most effective ways to feel more connected to people who care about you, even when you have to remain apart due to COVID-19:

  • Connecting by Phone and Video Chat: A weekly call with someone who makes you feel safe and loved can be a boost to your self-esteem. Video chatting is great if you miss seeing someone face to face. 
  • Sending Cards or Gifts: Sending goodies through the mail is a great way to lift one another's spirits. Something as simple as a postcard can brighten someone's day. And knowing you made them happy can brighten your day, too. 
  • Expressing Gratitude: Showing gratitude for the care of friends and family, or for the little things in life you're still able to enjoy, can help you stay grounded during a tough time.

If you're not sure where to turn to build a sense of connection, getting support when you need it is a solid first step. And you can start here. TheHopeLine has HopeCoaches available to offer chat and email mentoring if you need help navigating messy life issues or mental health challenges. Talk to us today about what you're feeling and let us help you find the support and resources you need. We are here for you, and we believe in you.

Are you just having a bad week, or is something more going on? Find out what shifts your mental state from "feeling blue" to a depression diagnosis here.

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